04/21/17 — Relay for Life survivors banquet

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Relay for Life survivors banquet

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 21, 2017 9:43 AM

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Honorary co-chair Tina Woodard speaks about her experiences dealing with and surviving cancer in the hopes of offering hope to those dealing with their own diagnosis during the Relay for Life Survivor's Banquet at First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

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Co-chairs Tina Woodard, left, and Cece Thornton embrace after speaking at the Relay for Life Survivor's Banquet at the First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

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Breast cancer survivor Angela Mills listens and sings along as Prishonda Daniels performs "The Anthem" at the Relay for Life Survivor's Banquet at First Pentecostal Holiness Church. Mills, a surgical tech at Wayne Memorial Hospital, feels that it was simply not her time to go because her purpose is to help others. She says she is half way done with radiation treatments and is truly happy with plenty of reason to be thankful and joyous.

Jo Sutton was one of the oldest cancer survivors in the audience at Thursday night's Relay for Life Survivors Banquet at First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

"I had lung cancer in 2008," the 85-year-old said.

Over the years since, she shifted to the caregiver role, taking care of others, including her twin sister, now suffering from Alzheimer's and in hospice care.

But recently more cancer was found and for more months than she can count, Ms. Sutton said she has been undergoing chemotherapy.

"I feel good, but I passed out the other day at the post office," she said. "They said I had congestive heart failure."

The news could have been a setback for the Goldsboro resident. But she is a woman of faith.

"I talk to the Lord every day and just tell Him to watch over me," she said. "He always has, and He always will.

"He's there all the time."

Dr. Lee Adams is a staple at Relay for Life events. He was among the original organizers who introduced the American Cancer Society fundraiser for research efforts in Wayne County over 25 years ago.

"I always say, 'Hang on and look up,'" the 91-year-old said, nodding at Ms. Sutton.

Jimmie Ford, master of ceremonies for the evening, called the gathering an opportunity to celebrate cancer survivors.

Likewise, caregivers are heroes in the fight.

"Look at your hands -- it was these hands that cared for the cancer survivor," he said, instructing caregivers around the room to raise their arms.

Those were the arms that cared for their loved one, hugged them and oftentimes lifted them up, Ford said.

Taking it a step further, he encouraged the caregivers to cross their arms over their hearts.

"This is a heart that cared. It was your heart that shared," he said. "It was your heart that remained strong for them. Even though you grew weary, you remained strong because you had to, just for them."

This year's honorary co-chairmen are longtime Relay for Life volunteers who found themselves on the other side of the equation as they each waged their own cancer battle.

CeCe Thornton had been a familiar face at the door for events like this, she said. Until September 2014 when the mother of three learned she had stage 2 breast cancer.

The 42-year-old underwent chemo, a four-hour surgery and six and a half weeks of radiation.

A myriad of emotions were also part of the process, but she attempted to remain strong and upbeat for her family and friends.

"I just had my last mammogram in December, and it came back clean so I'm cancer-free," she said, drawing applause from the packed crowd.

"That's my girl," Tina Woodard said quietly before standing to give Mrs. Thornton a hug as she stepped off the stage.

Mrs. Woodard, who shared honorary co-chair duties with her friend, is a two-time cancer survivor.

She had kidney cancer in 2011, but didn't require extensive treatments beyond an operation.

"I was walking a Relay lap, and I said to a friend, I don't feel like I deserve to be out here. All I did was I had surgery. I didn't have radiation. I didn't have chemo," she said.

That was May of 2013.

A few months later, in August 2013, she had a colonoscopy, resulting in a diagnosis of Stage 3 rectal cancer.

It rocked her busy life. She didn't "have time" for the interruption, she said.

"I don't remember how many days I laid in the floor with my dogs and cried. I don't want to," she said. "I don't want to remember the bad. I don't want to remember the ugly."

She chooses to focus on the positives, she said.

"I hate that I had cancer, but I love what cancer taught me, and I love the people that cancer put in my life," she said. "I love the people that I Relay with."

Ashley Woodard, experience lead for Relay, talked about this year's event, May 19 at the fairgrounds.

Gates will open at 1 p.m. It will be a 12-hour event instead of the usual 24-hour one, wrapping up at 1 a.m. Saturday.

"We're hoping for a great year this year," she said. "The survivor lap is at 6:30 p.m., the caregivers will follow at about 6:45."

The kids lap will be at 7:30 p.m.

And two popular bands are on tap -- Digger Foot and Ordnary Gentlemen -- along with other entertainment throughout the evening.

This year's theme is "Once Upon a Cure," reflected in the Disney princess decorations around the fellowship hall and smattering of crowns atop the heads of the organizers.

"We're doing a Relay royalty lap at 8 p.m.," Ms. Woodard added. "We're asking everyone to wear their sash or crown."

Vicki Terrell, Find A Cure lead and a 12-year cancer survivor, said this is an important event in this community.

She visited the city council recently and elicited supportive response, she said.

Goldsboro Mayor Chuck Allen proclaimed the month of May as Relay for Life Month, she said.

"Friday, May 5, to show your support, wear your Relay for Life T-shirt," she said. "We're also going to paint the town purple, so get out your purple ribbons the whole month of May."